A common neural code for meaning in discourse production and comprehension

Tanvi Patel, Matías Morales Martínez, Martin J. Pickering, Paul Hoffman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

How does the brain code the meanings conveyed by language? Neuroimaging studies have investigated this by linking neural activity patterns during discourse comprehension to semantic models of language content. Here, we applied this approach to the production of discourse for the first time. Participants underwent fMRI while producing and listening to discourse on a range of topics. We used a distributional semantic model to quantify the similarity between different speech passages and identified where similarity in neural activity was predicted by semantic similarity. When people produced discourse, speech on similar topics elicited similar activation patterns in a widely distributed and bilateral brain network. This network was overlapping with, but more extensive than, the regions that showed similarity effects during comprehension. Critically, cross-task neural similarities between comprehension and production were also predicted by similarities in semantic content. This result suggests that discourse semantics engages a common neural code that is shared between comprehension and production. Effects of semantic similarity were bilateral in all three RSA analyses, even while univariate activation contrasts in the same data indicated left-lateralised BOLD responses. This indicates that right-hemisphere regions encode semantic properties even when they are not activated above baseline. We suggest that right-hemisphere regions play a supporting role in processing the meaning of discourse during both comprehension and production.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120295
Early online date1 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • representational similarity analysis
  • discourse
  • language models
  • semantic representation


Dive into the research topics of 'A common neural code for meaning in discourse production and comprehension'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this